Distance Teaching Project-Based Curriculum

December 15, 2020 / by Mari Jones

Teachers have shown remarkable flexibility, ingenuity, and resilience striving to reach their students despite the challenging circumstances this year.  What could we do to support teachers in creating meaningful learning experiences at a distance? To answer this question, the Deeper Learning Hub at High Tech High Graduate School of Education embarked on a mission to provide ready access to online curriculum that develops students deeper learning competencies. 

How could we build students’ content mastery, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, effective communication, self-directed learning, and academic mindset, while students are learning from home? To answer this question, we asked expert educators in the Deeper Learning community about what meaningful project-based learning could look like from home. And what we got were projects that explored students’ identities, the science in everyday life, math that supports our financial freedom, and so much more. 


What do we love about the courses in the DL Hub Course Catalog?

We love how Big Data = Big Business. Big Deal? enlists students as data scientists to examine how things like our interactions with social media create data which influences our lives daily. 

The Financial Freedom Project combines math, financial literacy, and other life skills as students learn what it takes to attain financial freedom. We wish we had this course when we were younger!

Media 2 M.E.D.I.A. (My Existence Demands Immediate Attention) takes students on a journey of self discovery through the use of music and lyrics. The curated poetry and hip-hop songs in this project are fire!

We love the fun videos in The Science of Tortillas that teach students about the science in an ordinary object like tortillas, and invites them to research and teach others the science behind everyday life. 

Math is Beautiful: Building Your Inner Mathematician invites students to investigate mathematical concepts through play and to explore their own mathematical identities. The open-ended and fun math activities engage even reluctant mathematicians to see themselves as math people.

Who Is: A Story That Must Be Told takes young writers through the entire production and publishing process to create their own books with an untold story about an important figure. We love that the whole process ends in a published book!

How Do You See? examines the phenomena of light and vision using hands on activities that students can do from home and culminates in the creation of a shadow puppet performance about this scientific phenomena. The integration of science, folk tales, and art is what makes this project truly phenomenal!

We love the focus on social emotional learning and sense of belonging in At This Moment I Am, a project that invites students to dig into different aspects of their identity and to communicate that with others in their learning community. 

In just a couple of months, we were able to create and launch the DL Hub Course Catalog, a set of short duration project based learning experiences for students grades 4-12. Because we want to make sure that all students have access, the courses are available for free until the end of December. After that, there will be a small per-student cost to help mitigate our software costs of scaling up this initiative. Using the Pathwight platform for the online courses, teachers can simply make a copy of a course, personalize it, and invite their students to join the cohort. With a few tweaks such as adding their own Zoom or Meets links, customizing due dates, and adding students, the courses are ready to teach. 

All of the courses have the essential elements for powerful project-based learning. This includes a synchronous project launch that hooks students with engaging videos and class discussions. In  following lessons, students conduct research, reflect on connections, create products, and participate in critique and revision to ensure quality work. These lessons are designed to allow for flexibility. They can be done synchronously or asynchronously and teachers can pace them according to the needs of their students. Each project culminates with a virtual exhibition in a synchronous meeting. Our work in the Share Your Learning campaign has taught us that when students have an authentic audience for their work, they are more motivated and engaged because their work matters.

It’s been a joy to see so many teachers and students access these courses and bring Deeper Learning into their own educational experiences. These courses show that it is possible to do PBL via distance learning. We hope that these projects inspire educators to design their own deeper learning experiences. 

To access the DL Hub Courses, go to Follow us on Twitter @shareyourlearn and @hthgse.  

Topics: Project Based Learning, Virtual Learning

Mari Jones

Written by Mari Jones

Mari Jones is the Director of the Deeper Learning Hub, a national practitioner hub whose mission is to spread deeper learning practices and ensure that more students across the country are achieving deeper learning outcomes. Deeper Learning Hub projects include the Share Your Learning Campaign which aims to focus on spreading exhibition, student-led conferences, and presentations of learning to 5 million students in order to elevate student voice and promote student agency, and the Deeper Learning Hub Fellowship, which focuses on supporting Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Social Emotional Learning to create the conditions for Deeper Learning. She is an Improvement Facilitator for the Center for Research on Equity and Innovation, where she has supported K-12 teachers across 16 High Tech High schools in literacy and social emotional learning through continuous improvement, and will be launching the 8th Grade On Track network this year. She teaches the Foundations of Classroom Culture and Foundations of Student Centered Teaching for the San Diego Teacher Residency Program. Mari has always felt that education is a form of activism, and she is passionate about promoting social change and equity by empowering youth. As an elementary educator for 14 years, she spent half of her career in National City, working primarily with English Learners and the other half working at High Tech Elementary Explorer, which nurtured her passion for social-emotional learning and crafting opportunities for meaningful learning experiences. She holds a B.A. in Communication, a Multiple-Subject Bilingual, Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development Credential, and an M.Ed. in Research, Equity, and Technology from UCSD as well as an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from HTH Graduate School of Education where her research largely focused on the intersection of project-based learning and social-emotional learning as important pathways that lead to the development of deeper learning competencies, and on professional development to support new teachers.

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